One of the highlights of my year, make that the highlight of the year, is my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Festivals every August. Some of my greatest moments in the theatre have been in this beautiful and highly civilised city, from tiny fringe venues (including a lift one year) to the lofty magnificence of the Edwardian theatres; the whole city is alive with every kind of art every August. If you choose wisely, which can be the tricky part, (particularly without specific knowledge of venues and companies), you can see some of the best comedy, dance, physical theatre and drama that the world has to offer, even the visual arts are getting there. This is because the world, performers anyway, comes to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world. But it can also be tough! You must (well, theatre obsessive must) put yourself through some gruelling physical and more importantly mental tests. Have you ever seen 9 plays in one day? And I doubt Paula Radcliff could keep up with the flitting (=frantically running, pushing tourists out of the way) around the city that is necessary to keep on schedule. Indeed I was nearly arrested one year for crossing the road, for reasons that are quite amusing, but too long winded for me to go into here. Suffice to say that I still curse the Lothian & Borders Police (threaten the criminals not umbrella wielding theatregoers) and the bloody Tattoo (which I’ve never been to, and theatre minded people should only go to in a highly ironic way if they really must, and then only after 10 years attendance at the festival). I usually have several people I know in Edinburgh at the Festival, but I say at the University Halls of residence, so the serious business of morning to night theatregoing can be done in critical isolation, but for the occasional show with friends and every night (meaning after 1am) meeting for a jolly conference. The University Halls are also cheap by Edinburgh festival standards (you could hire a suite in London for the price of a box room in Edinburgh during festival time), you meet nice young Americans over breakfast (the American Theatre Festival also stay here) and the breakfast is excellent. Frankly the breakfast is so good and wide ranging that I would recommend any 'big eater' should stay there, it really sets you up for the day, because you have no time for lunch. The down sides of staying in the halls are shared bathrooms (unless you are very rich and hire the posh rooms), and the need for a taxi home from George Street at 4am, the walk being simply impossible after a exhausting day, plus meeting nice young Americans over breakfast (or more realistically hearing young Americans and wanting to smash plates over their heads. Seriously, one day I heard a group of them planning to go to THE HARD ROCK CAFÉ for lunch. Yes, come to Edinburgh to visit the bloody Hard Rock Café, not just to visit it, but to plan your day around it. I wept into my porridge and black pudding). One thing that should be done is a visit to the camera obscura, for a wonderful view of the city, which is highly hilly and on a split level, so make sure the shoes are comfortable (AA Gill wouldn’t like that).
Some people only do the fringe; others mix many festivals (Film, Fringe, International, Media, Jazz, Art, Book and more). I go to all the International Festival theatre events I can (this year 4 plays), and then fit a huge fringe programme around that. I also take the time to visit the National Gallery, Scottish Royal Academy, Dean Gallery and Modern Art Gallery every year (conveniently they come in twos, Dean and Modern and SRA and the National being next door neighbours). It is also nice to visit the City Art Centre and National Portrait Gallery when possible, especially the latter being a huge gothic monstrosity (but wonderful), with an evocatively gloomy entrance hall containing dusty statues of the ancient Scottish great and good. The Dean Gallery is also a beautifully laid out mansion, with a literally sculpted lawn.
Anyway, I really do recommend a visit, it has something for everyone, and the city is always worth seeing (though strangely calm when I visit out of festival time).
My schedule/recommendations are currently as follows (with many more to come, but you must leave some room for spontaneity, or recommended gems you only find out about when you’re there):
- Dai (enough), Pleasance. Play set in a Tel Aviv café before a suicide bombing. Sounds interesting, especially to those of us interested in the Palestinian/Israel conflict.
- Story of Rabbit, Pleasance. Hugh Hughes is a brilliant and inventive performer; this should be a festival hit.
- Floating, Pleasance. Hughes returns with his whimsical hit from last year.
- An Audience with Adrienne, the Medical School. I went to a prom performance at the medical school last year, the building is wonderful and this show sounds interesting too, where we’re invited to have tea and cake with the fabulous Adrienne, a lovely tranny.
- England, Fruitmarket Gallery. A fantastic journey exploring the commercialisation of art with Tim Crouch I should think.
- Killer Joe, Pleasance. It’s got the obscenely talented Phil Nicol in it.
- The Bacchae, Kings Theatre. Alan Cumming stars in John Tiffany’s NTS production at the International Festival (Tiffany directed the stunning Blackwatch last year).
- The Mistress, Assembly Rooms. Wesker’s play, thinking about it, mainly due to convenient early time slot! But baulking at the Assembly Rooms ludicrous prices.
- Follow Me, Assembly Rooms. A play about the last hangman Pierrepoint, then ditto above.
- Etiquette. Rotozaza’s fascinating self performed play (you and a partner do what you’re told via headphones).
- Macbeth: Who is This Bloodied Man, Old College Quad. Dazzling and dark physical theatre in a spectacular outdoor setting.
- Hippo World Guest Book, Pleasance Dome. Chris Goode should give us some fun in this web site inspired show.
- La Didone, Lyceum Theatre. Crazy stuff from the Wooster Group, one to watch at the International Festival.
- The Arab and the Jew, Pleasance. Gecko bring their unique talents to another take on the modern middle east.
- James II, Rosslyn Chapel. Great chance to visit the historic church and see a play. Douglas Maxwell’s last historical play was a cracker.
- Is This About Sex? Drill Hall. The Drill Hall, used last year for Blackwatch, has been taken over by the Traverse this year and they present a very interesting line up there. This is the brilliant Rough Magic’s take on gender and sexuality, should be good.
- Subway, Drill Hall. Vanishing point bring us some exciting visual theatre set in the Edinburgh of the future.
- Stoopud Fucken Animal, Drill Hall. A Suffolk set western by the writer of the excellent Food (Traverse, 2006).
- Night Time, Drill Hall. Sounds like a noir thrill ride, intriguing.
- The Human Computer, Drill Hall. I love Will Adamsdale, and in this he turns into a computer.
- Daniel Kitson, The Stand. You should all see Kitson’s stand up. His storytelling is even better, but sadly absent from this year’s festival.
- Damascus, Traverse. A new play by David Greig, about identity and the middle east too. What more could you want?
- Long Time Dead, Rona Munroe. A new play from Munroe produced by Pains Plough, had good reviews in Plymouth, about climbing mountains (‘..ford every stream, follow every rainbow…’).
- The Walworth Farce, Traverse. A new play by Enda Walsh, again, need I say more? Plus I lived there for a while, Walworth that is.
- Johnson and Boswell, Late but Live, Traverse. Ever wondered what Dr Johnson and James Boswell said to each other? Stewart Lee did, which is enough to get me through the door.
- Believe, Traverse. Linda Marlowe performs in several biblical stories re-interpreted for female characters. Sounds crazy, no?
- Venus As a Boy, Traverse. The customary gay play, this time from the National theatre of Scotland, hooray!
- Pit, Traverse. Controversial show about poverty and suffering. I like the directors work, don’t know of the writer.
- Yellow Moon, Traverse. Another from the talented David Grieg. This is about gangsters, and got some interesting notices in a recent run.
- Ravenhill for Breakfast, Traverse. Who could resist a brand new Ravenhill play everyday at 9.30am? Not me, but I’ll only be up this early once in the festival though.
- Game Theory, Traverse. Sound like a very interesting play about Game Theory in our everyday lives.
- Twelfth Night, The Caves. Filter does Twelfth Night in a wonderful subterranean location. One week only.
- The Ethics of Progress, Underbelly. Unlimited Theatre talk about quantum physics. Yes this is theatre, and you should give these innovators a chance!
- Breaker Morant, Udderbelly. An Australian soldier court martialed for murder, a true story. Top drawer production judging by some of the names involved.
- Mabou Mines Dolls House, Kings Theatre. Small men and big women perform Ibsen’s seminal drama. Sounds like a hoot! But seriously, it is one of my favourite plays, so I’m always curious to see new versions.
- Presumption, Theatre Workshop. The excellent Third Angel present a show about everyday love.
- Leftovers, Theatre Workshop. Mem Morrision explores identity and belonging over a good old fry up.
- Orpheus X, Lyecum. Modern version of the Orpheus myth. He’s now a rock star and she dies in a car crash. Promises video and several musical forms.
Yes, I have recommended everything at The Traverse, but they are a mark of a quality (it’s a real theatre with an artistic policy, with a year round programme, that culminates with their massive Festival programme very August. One of the first and one of the best). I’ve never actually seen all the Traverse shows before, I’ve been close, but they all appeal to me this year.
I also fancy, but have not yet scheduled several shows, particularly (Be)Longing at the Theatre Workshop, Scarborough at the Assembly Rooms, Mile End at the Pleasance Dome, A Glance at New York at the Assembly Rooms, Phaedre at C Venues, Exits and Entrances (by Fugard) at the Assembly Rooms, Failed States at the Pleasance Dome, The Government Inspector at the Freemason’s Hall, The Last South at the Pleasance and Touch also at the Pleasance. I was thinking about Truth in Translation at the Assembly Hall, but the price is £17.50 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I say the same thing about Fuerzabruta which is charging £25, I’m sure I didn’t pay that much at the Roundhouse! This is a fringe festival, not the West End.
Tickets can be bought through: http://www.edfringe.com or http://www.eif.co.uk/
For International Festival Tickets.